English Conversation Circle encourages international student discussion

By: Jura McIlraith

Friendly chatter fills a college classroom around lunch-time as Red River College Polytechnic students trickle in, talking about their weekends. None of them speak English as their first language.

This is the English Conversation Circles (ECC), a new initiative bringing international students together to help practice ways to start, continue and end conversations.

“It’s getting me more confident with the techniques and theory to use on a daily basis,” said Eduardo Florian, 25. “It’s incredible because they gave us a chance to talk with native speakers.”

The program began in January and is free for anyone interested. Students get to talk with others from different countries and programs.

Florian moved to Winnipeg at the beginning of 2023 from Peru to join the Business Management program. He said although he knew English before starting school, he is still looking to improve his language skills and has been attending ECC meetings since it began.

Yifan Li (centre) asks Maria Gonzalez questions about her weekend at the English Conversation Circle on Jan. 31, 2023. Students practice the language and gain the confidence they need to speak with other students whose first language is English. (Jura McIlraith)

For many, refining their English is difficult in a normal classroom setting. Keeping up with class content and sitting through lectures doesn’t leave much room for practicing conversations.

“I understand everything, but when I need to practice my speaking, it’s difficult,” said Amparo Borja, 46. “Here, I practice and I feel more confident.”

Cheri Rohloff runs the ECC once a week at the Notre Dame Campus (NDC) on Mondays and runs one at the Exchange District Campus (EDC) on Tuesdays and online on Fridays. She said the response from students has been extremely positive.

“The students have been enthusiastic and appreciative,” Rohloff said. “They have told me that it has been very helpful for them.”

Rohloff guides conversations between groups and pairs, with time for questions. She also offers topics of conversation to use with classmates, coworkers, and strangers in various settings.

“I look forward to doing the Conversation Circles every week,” Rohloff said. “I really appreciate the students’ dedication and positive attitude.”

The Academic Success Centre saw a need for the program with the increased number of international students. Classes consist of an average of ten students a week at EDC, three at NDC and five online.

The ECC is also an important way for students living in a new city to connect with one another.

“We really update all together what we did in the last week and we share our experiences,” Florian said. “I think in the end, it’s our network we are creating here in Red River.”